Where Are They Now? Mary Fanning-Penny, Class of 2008

This post is part of an occasional series focusing on Leadership Development Academy graduates and what they have done, personally and professionally, in the years following their LDA experience. Please contact us if you would like to be profiled here, or would like to recommend a graduate for us to feature.

Mary Fanning-Penny
Mary Fanning-Penny, Class of 2008


Mary Fanning-Penny

Year Graduated:

Class of 2007-2008.

What are you doing now?

President & CEO, United Way Blackhawk Region.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. By college, my dream shifted to becoming a champion for positive, social change.

How did LDA help you on your journey?

As with every meaningful experience in life, the most important takeaway was the relationships.

Favorite song/band:

This is tough for my eclectic taste! My sister and I have a special place in our hearts for “If I Ever Leave this World Alive” by Flogging Molly.

What piece of advice would you give a new LDA participant?

Nurture the connections you’re making, not only with your LDA peers but also the panelists and community leaders you meet along the way. The experience introduces you to new associates and organizations, in a forum and timespan that traditional networking cannot.

Mary Fanning-Penny and family
Mary Fanning-Penny and family

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m over the moon for my twin daughters. We’re currently reading the Harry Potter series together, we enjoy art, competitive family UNO games, and snuggling our doggy, Darby. I miss date nights with my husband and fun with my wild Irish family (ahem, pandemic).

Favorite Rock County event:

  • Spring: YWCA Rock County’s Women of Distinction Award Gala
  • Summer: Milton’s 4th of July parade
  • Fall: United Way’s Day of Caring & Campaign Kickoff
  • Winter: Rotary Botanical Gardens’ Holiday Light Show

Where do you volunteer?

Currently serve on the Board of Directors for Forward Janesville, Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Wisconsin.

If you could trade careers with any local person, who would you trade with and why?

I have tremendous admiration for educators. I’m nostalgic in elementary schools, enjoy the simultaneous wonder and peace only a library can provide, and love the electricity of a college campus. Educators inspire “a-ha!” moments daily and deserve our heartfelt gratitude.

Mary Fanning-Penny presents a check from United Way Blackhawk Region to HealthNet of Rock County
Mary Fanning-Penny presents a check from United Way Blackhawk Region to HealthNet of Rock County

When you reflect on your LDA experience, what is your fondest memory? Scariest memory?

The ropes course and bonfire were a blast! I don’t recall anything particularly scary or daunting. I appreciated that the program was fast-paced and dynamic.

Future goal or dream:

To empower my daughters to be smart, strong, honest and compassionate.

Any regrets?

Nope. I believe in failing forward and embracing opportunities for continuous improvement (that’s a nod to my years at GM Janesville Assembly).

Why have you stayed involved with LDA?

I see tremendous value in fostering connectivity in our community. LDA is uniquely equipped to educate participants on our regional history and milestones, intersectionality and encourage opportunities for engagement.

Favorite quote:

“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott

2019 trip to Ireland
2019 trip to Ireland

What was your LDA project? How did it impact your experience with LDA or in life?

Our project was to develop a marketing plan for a program offered by the former United Way of North Rock County. The LDA project was a natural choice, as I’ve been a loyal donor and passionate advocate for United Way’s mission the entirety of my career.

If you could choose a community project or need to help out with today, what would it be and why?

Already doing it. United Way works to advance equity by fighting for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. United we fight, united we win.

Who do you look up to as a community leader/mentor?

I admire so many local nonprofit executives and their ability to innovate and produce impactful outcomes with lean teams and limited resources. For more than 15 years, I’ve collaborated in various capacities with a colleague I revere, United Way Vice President Denise Peters-Kauihou. Also, Milly Babcock, Jen DeGarmo, and Jon Schlemmer, are just a few of the influential leaders I’ve looked up to.

Do you know of any new non-profits that might need community support now?

In 2020, United Way launched the region’s first-ever Born Learning Trails. Born Learning Trails feature 10 colorful, interactive signs that turn everyday moments into fun learning opportunities for young children and their caregivers. We’re looking for both corporate sponsors and volunteers to help us install new trails throughout the Blackhawk Region.